Cruise LLC CEO Dan Ammann announced the company secured a $5 billion credit line to buy the Origin shuttles it needs for its autonomous vehicle services from General Motors in a few years.
GM — essentially Cruise’s parent company — will build the Origin’s driverless shuttles at its new Factory Zero plant in Detroit. To close the loop on this deal, the credit line comes from GM Financial, the auto company’s in-house finance arm.
The $5 billion credit line makes it so Cruise “can efficiently finance the expansion of our fleet as we scale up over the next few years,” Ammann wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “This bumps up Cruise’s total war chest to over $10 billion as we enter commercialization.”
Production is already underway as GM’s already built several pre-production models — a total of 100 are coming before they’re set for business.
Next step in the business plan
Ammann, who was previously president of GM before taking over as CEO at Cruise, noted in the blog entry that he’s excited seeing the first few vehicles already built and to have them begin the validation and testing process.
“Seeing them up close and in person is absolutely thrilling,” he wrote in the post.
The company, which also counts Honda and Microsoft among its investors, recently received the go-ahead to begin testing its self-driving technology in California from the state’s public utilities commission. The company is using Chevrolet Bolt EVs for the testing run.
To date, Cruise has fielded 300 modified Bolt EVs, logging 2 million miles of testing on public roads. Most are being run near its San Francisco headquarters, though others are operating in Phoenix, another popular test site for autonomous startups, including Waymo.
Until recently, companies like Cruise, Waymo and others have been allowed to test their autonomous technologies on public roads, but only with a back-up “safety operator” onboard, ready to retake control in an emergency.
The Cruise Origin is expected to be used in a ride-sharing service similar to what Google spinoff Waymo plans to set up. It is unclear whether the GM subsidiary may also sell the Origin or other products to competing ride-share services.
The first production models of the toaster-shaped shuttle are expected to be ready for 2023. The company already set to begin a commercial ride-sharing service in Dubai that same year.
The Cruise vehicles will use Level 4 technology that expands the range of roads on which they can operate without a driver onboard. The planned Cruise Origin shuttles won’t even have controls like a steering wheel or brake and accelerator pedals. Still, the vehicles will be “geo-fenced,” meaning they can be used only on specific roads and places and under defined conditions. It remains unclear when it will be possible to go the next step, fielding driverless vehicles that will be able to operate on their own, anywhere and at any time.